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Graduation 101: What to expect

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Zi Yang Lai | The Daily Wildcat

Fireworks explode over Arizona Stadium during the 2015 commencement ceremony on May 16, 2015. Roughly 5,000 students are expected to attending this year's graduation ceremony..

UA students, friends and their families will gather at Arizona Stadium on the evening of May 12, as the university holds commencement ceremonies for the 153rd year.

UA is expecting thousands of people to attend the event that relocated to the football stadium in 2013, said Mary Venezia, director of special events at the enrollment initiatives office.

“We have our commencement RSVP, and we’re estimating from our RSVP that we’ll have about 38,000 guests and about 5,000 students,” she said. “We really try to make the event really inclusive of all the folks who are coming, making sure that it’s really special for everyone.”

The commencement committee formed with employees from across the university. “We have a team that’s really across the campus, everything from facilities management, athletics, marketing,” Venezia said. “Our team in enrollment management, we spearhead commencement.”

Preparations began in February and the implementation started May 5. “It’s a lot of work,” Venezia said. “It’s collaboration by a lot of people on campus, so my team really leads and organizes the effort but we couldn’t do anything without all these offices and partners on campus and these folks really give their time.”

Venezia said that there are 300 volunteer staff members that have agreed to help to make ceremony run smoothly, putting in hours from around 3:30-11 p.m.

Venezia said that the task of putting together commencement emphasizes the importance of celebrating hard work. “It’s a huge task but I think it’s really important for the community and it really shows that the university prioritizes celebrating our students.”

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Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr., who retired as the 12th administrator at NASA, will be the commencement speaker for the 2017 class. “General Bolden has been a wonderful partner of the University of Arizona, particularly during the planning and lead up to the launch of the OSIRIS-REx mission in September,” UA president Ann Weaver Hart said in an email to the university. “And he has been a visionary leader as NASA has transitioned to a new era in space exploration.”

Also during the event, seven students will be individually recognized for their hard work. Matthew Wall and Maria Smith have received the Robie Gold Medal award and the Provost award respectively.

Wall was nominated for his well-rounded interests, active participation in student affairs and service to the university, including several articles for the Daily Wildcat. He said as a whole, his UA experience has been very memorable.

“The whole experience has been completely surreal,” he said. “I had no expectation of ever winning an award ... I didn’t come to the U of A to try to win an award and so just this recognition at the end of the day is absolutely incredible.”

He also said that the upcoming commencement brings excitement and he is thankful his family supported him through it all. “As for the commencement coming up, I’m just excited, four years of hard work to all be done in a matter of days ... all of this happened so quick, I would say to all those students here that are going to be seniors in the future, remember your time goes by quickly and to make the most of it.”

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Wall, who will get his degree in accounting, said he plans to further his education in sports business and a masters program in the School of Law and help in his community.

“Something that’s really important to me is to be able to help my community, I’ve been able to do that here at the University of Arizona,” Wall said.

Smith said it’s hard to believe the end is drawing near. “To be honest, the idea of me graduating still doesn’t feel real. But you have to understand, for me, I have a three-year-old little girl. I started on this journey shortly after her birth, and now she will get to watch me walk the stage.”

“I wanted to show her what a woman of color could be and achieve if she worked hard.” Smith will graduate Magna Cum Laude with a degree in sociology.

She will receive her award based on being an outstanding student who transferred to UA from a community college and stayed committed to above-average scholastic ability, citizenship and leadership.

“Honestly, it has been such a long journey but it was the love of my daughter that got me though it all, coupled with the support of my husband and UA mentors.”

In her time at UA, Smith said she has grown and adapted as a better learner. “It was here that I was encouraged and push to think critically, to question everything and to think like a scholar.” Going forward she plans to apply to graduate school.

Success stories like these are what graduation is meant to recognize, Venezia said.

“The whole purpose of what we do is to help students celebrate their achievements and what can we do to celebrate our Wildcats and their families,” Venezia said.


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